Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Theo and Philo Artisan Chocolates

With my continued search for chocolate I came across this link and came to know about Theo and Philo's: http://loqal.ph/food-and-beverage/2011/06/27/balikbayan-entrepreneur-puts-pinoy-twist-to-chocolate/

I came to know about his facebook page and posted on his wall is a Philippine Star article written about him. But the link is not working anymore/cant be accessed - http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=785769&publicationSubCategoryId=90

However the article below was accessed through google/web cache through this shortened link-

For love and chocolate
By Ida Anita Q. del Mundo (The Philippine Star) Updated March 11, 2012 12:00 AM  

MANILA, Philippines - From the looks of the nondescriptbuilding on a narrow, vehicle-packed street in Binondo, one would never imagine that premium artisan chocolates are made in this building. But, walk up the stairs to the fourth floor, turn a corner and – even from the corridor – you are immediately greeted by the aroma of chocolate and you know you are in the right place.

Nothing about Philo Chua’s background would hint that he would turn out making fine artisan chocolates under the brand name Theo and Philo. In fact, he confesses, “My favorite ice cream flavor when I was a kid was strawberry.”

Graduating from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Computer Science, Philo went on to pursue a master’s degree in Entertainment Technology in the US and worked in the IT industry for a time.

It was when he was studying in Pittsburgh that his interest in chocolates began. “I learned how to cook, then I started baking a lot with chocolate,” he shares.

A shop also opened in his area that sold single origin chocolates. “Single origin chocolates are those whose beans come from just one source,” Philo explains. These special chocolates have distinct tastes, depending on where the beans originate. This had become all the rage, he says, likening the trend to coffee and wine tastings from different regions.

Becoming a regular at the store, Philo noticed that cacao came from places like Ecuador and Madagascar – all tropical countries. “It’s interesting and ironic that the best chocolates are European – like Swiss and French – but they cannot grow their own cacao.”

Realizing that there are also cacao farmers in the Philippines, and seeing that there were no single origin chocolates available from the country, Philo decided, “This could be a niche market that I could get into.”

Reading an article about an entrepreneur who started a chocolate business on his own without any background in the industry was what made Philo believe that he, too, could become successful in this new enterprise. Thus, in 2007, Theo and Philo Artisan Chocolates was born, but Philo himself admits that at the time, “It was still a half-baked idea.”

With some basic knowledge of how to make chocolate which he learned off the Internet, Philo started to develop his product. It was very challenging, he says, especially because in the Philippines the more commonly known process is making compound chocolates, which use vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter.

“Some of the suppliers did not even know what vanilla was,” says Philo, adding that he had purchased the wrong machines many times as well. “It really has been a learning experience.”

Producing single origin chocolates, all ingredients used for Philo and Theo products are sourced from the Philippines, except for a few that are unavailable in the country. The cacao beans are from Davao.

“Philippine cacao has a stronger flavor,” Philo says. “Cacao from other countries is more fruity... Philippine cacao is very robust and earthy.”

Theo and Philo’s first two products – milk chocolate and 70 percent dark chocolate – were launched in 2010 and were met with good reviews. “Finally we have our own chocolate,” was one of the positive remarks from those who tried it.

“The feedback was encouraging, but we only had two products,” Philo adds.

Thinking of ways to expand the business, Philo considered targeting premium bakers. But since he could only produce small batches at a time, he would not be able to meet their demand or offer a competitive price compared to imported baking chocolate available on the market.

Philo then thought of making chocolate candies, but a friend approached him with an idea – flavored chocolate. “This was something I was also planning, but for later on,” says Philo. With his friend’s urging, however, the idea of flavored chocolates was pushed to the forefront.

The idea took off and now Theo and Philo has a growing fanbase for its unique flavors. Most of their flavors are a take on classic combinations, with a Filipino twist.

There’s the traditional citrus-chocolate pairing made unique with calamansi, Philo’s personal favorite. The Mexican hot chocolate with chili, a flavor that is becoming quite popular today, is given a Filipino makeover as dark chocolate with siling labuyo.

The Theo and Philo version of a crunch bar comes with pili and pinipig. Their original bestseller was the barako chocolate which has a strong coffee flavor and an interesting texture, with actual ground coffee beans mixed into the chocolate.

The current bestseller, however, is perhaps the most Filipino of all Theo and Philo flavors and is even more interesting: dark chocolate with green mango and salt. The bittersweet chocolate – surprisingly – goes perfectly with the sour bite of green mango bits, balanced off by a little kick of salt.

“There’s no in between for this one,” says Philo. “You either love it or you hate it.” With more and more people developing a taste for the adventurous, the flavor has become a top seller.

“Ever since I started with these, people have been texting me or approaching me with random ideas for new flavors,” says Philo.

Coming up with flavors is still a hit or miss experimental process, which Philo does himself.

Graphic design being one of his hobbies, he also created the packaging for the chocolates on his own – a design detail that truly elevates the product to a level of elegance way above the normal chocolate bar.

“It is both encouraging and rewarding to see the positive response,” says Philo. He still considers himself very new to the industry and is just starting to scale up the business to meet growing consumer demands. Aside from adding new flavors to the line, Philo hopes to set up a small store of his own.

Meantime, chocoholics can find Theo and Philo products at the Echostore in Serendra, Team Manila in the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell, and Human Nature stores, among other outlets.

Another important plan in the works for Theo and Philo is a tie up with Gawad Kalinga, which will potentially create sustainable livelihood for cacao farmers and help support the community.

“It was serendipity,” Philo says of his foray into the chocolate industry and his success in capturing taste buds with the now popular flavored chocolates.

Pondering on the reason why people love chocolate so much, Philo muses, “There is really a mystery and romance behind chocolate.”

Quoting the popular line from Forest Gump, he adds, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Further, he explains, the name Theo and Philo – while obviously referring to his own name, and is a little nod to Ateneans who had to take Philo and Theo subjects – was also chosen because philo means love and theo is short for theobroma, another name for chocolate.

Playing off of the excitement and mystique of this “food for the gods,” Theo and Philo really does offer us Love and Chocolate.

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